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Baptist campus ministries bursting at seams in Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Are today’s college students more spiritually attuned? Or are there just more students?

These are among the questions being asked as Baptist Collegiate Ministries’ buildings in Oklahoma are bursting at the seams with college students this semester.

At the state’s two largest universities, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, more students than ever are attending BCM programs. The same is true at the University of Central Oklahoma, Northwestern, Northeastern, Southwestern, Southeastern and East Central State Universities, as well as some of the state’s smaller colleges and universities.

The BCMs open their doors, and the students come.

“I think as much as anything it is the generation of students,” said Ron Driskill, BCM director at OSU. “They are students who have a passion for God. They have a worldview. And actually think they can make a difference.

Those factors, and the time invested by BCM staffers, account for the increased numbers,” Driskill said, noting that he thinks he could stretch out across the front doors to keep the students out and they would step over him to get in.

He said the last three years have been growth periods for the OSU BCM, and just the time he thinks attendance has peaked, “we have more people.”

The problem at the Stillwater school, as well as many other campuses, is that the BCM ministry has outgrown its facilities. Because the BCM is a recognized campus organization, it now meets in a lecture hall on campus.

And even that is becoming crowded.

“We still have room problems,” Driskill said. “But there are only five or six rooms on campus that will accommodate us without us spending $200 a month to rent space.”

At OU, BCM director Max Barnett said he would like to think today’s student is naturally more spiritual, but he said he hasn’t come to that conclusion based on the reading he’s done on today’s generation.

“Our big concern is helping students to become more spiritual,” Barnett said. “We want to get the depth and quality so we have laborers going out of here.” OU has sent students around the world to mission fields and to BCM campuses across the nation. In fact, Barnett and his wife are leaving on a trip to visit former students serving in places such as Cambodia and Hong Kong.

Barnett said he believes the growth on the Norman campus is due to his staff spending a lot of time on campus and in the dorms, visiting with students and working with upperclassmen.

“If a student visits here, before the next meeting, we drop by their room and invite them back,” Barnett said. “Also, the fact [that] we got our leadership back early, and had them visiting, helping students move in and meeting people, was an advantage.”

Barnett reported attendance at Thursday night vespers is up 50 to 100 students from previous years.

“We had 382 at our first meeting and have had to set up a video downstairs to accommodate all the students,” he said. He added that an early semester freshman retreat attracted 80 students.

Charles Lillard, BCM director at the University of Central Oklahoma, said UCO, which has always been mainly a commuter campus, now has 1,500 students living in new dorm facilities, up 500 from last year.

“Being a metropolitan campus, we’ve always had lots of students over 30, which is not our target group,” Lillard said. “We gear our ministry to the more traditional college student, and we have more of them now.”

Lillard said he hopes the BCM’s increase of students is a result of the Holy Spirit, but admits some of the increase is due to students who go out every week to share their faith.

“God has given us some students who have a heart for him, want to serve him and are willing to invest their time in ministry,” Lillard said.

Noonday services, he said, are averaging more than 100, and the “7:59” Thursday evening worship, praise and discipleship time is drawing more than 150, with 300 in attendance one evening. “We’ve had as many as 100 students sitting on the floor,” Lillard noted.

Jim Morrison, BCM director at Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, said that BCM has grown noticeably the last two years.

“I’d like to say this generation is more spiritual,” Morrison said. “And it may be true, but it’s hard to tell.”

He said he believes better work in Super Summer programs, plus an interest of youth directors who have a background in BCM ministry has helped BCMs grow.

“We are fortunate that we get the names of students in the summer and have an opportunity to write to them before school starts,” he said.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s BCM in Durant has reached 100 percent capacity, said director John Heath. To accommodate the growing crowds, he has varied the times for noonday lunches, where 250-300 have shown up to fill a space which will seat only about 140.

“They come and go, and we have two devotional periods,” Heath said.

To keep a handle on other activities, Heath said all of the Bible studies and a lot of discipleship groups are meeting in dorm rooms and apartment complexes.

“We try to spread our ministries so everyone isn’t in the building at the same time,” Heath explained. “We have freshman ministries and family groups, so we don’t all meet at one time.”

The SEOS BCM is currently in the process of raising money for an addition to its facilities which will increase space by 40 percent.

Things are likewise booming on the Northwestern Oklahoma State University campus from the president’s office down.

BCM director Larry Justice said the growth there has been a gradual “explosion” over the last four to five years. He said he is particularly excited because of the atmosphere on campus including the interaction among religious groups and the leadership of new president Tom McDaniel, a Northwestern graduate and former Kerr McGee executive.

“I invited the [university] president to speak to our second noonday service this year,” Justice recounted, “and he caught our students’ attention when he said he had a good feeling coming and sharing with the students that he knows Jesus as his personal Savior.”

Some of the students, Justice said, went to the president’s office to invite him to their See You at the Pole event. He promised to be there, and before the students left, he asked if he could lead them in prayer.

“That may happen on a Christian campus, but when it occurs at a secular school, it is significant,” Justice said.

Justice said their TNT (Thursday Night Thing) praise and worship at the Alva school is averaging more than 70 students, up from about 45 last year, and there have been as many as 87.

“The only thing I can figure out for the increase,” Justice said, “is we have better quality students who come from backgrounds with more of an appreciation for studying spiritual things and growing in their faith. Every campus is going to have its party students, but education costs so much now, we’re getting a better quality student.”

Debbie Libscomb, who with her husband, Bobby, serves on the Northeastern Oklahoma State University campus in Tahlequah, said part of the growth there is due to the fact there are 1,000 more freshmen on campus.

“Also the BCM is more stable and word is out that there are a lot of things going on here,” Libscomb said. “The kids also like the fact that it’s a student-led organization.”

Construction has begun on a new BCM building at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton. Associate BCM director Todd Sledge said the present facilities, which accommodate 30-40 comfortably, were pushed to the maximum with 65 to 80 students at every worship service last year.

He said the Lord opened the door to build new facilities that will hold 107 in worship services.

“We had approximately half enough money to build, but as we ran out of money, God provided,” Sledge said. “Just the other day, a lady donated $10,000 because she heard we were going to have to stop building.” However, even the new building may not be big enough, because at the first BCM event this year, there were 121 students.

“Our enrollment is down by 10 percent, but there is little evidence of that in our ministry,” Sledge said. He said he believes students are hungry for Christ.

“Worship is a big thing on college campuses right now,” Sledge said. “They are drawn when they see contemporary worship and can experience God is this type setting.”

He said because of the lack of spirituality in our nation, when students come to college and actually see other students sold out for God, it fulfills a hunger they have.

“Most of our decisions in past years have come in the spring semester, but already this year, we’ve seen two professions of faith and one or two recommitments,” Sledge said. “God is doing a mighty thing.”

At East Central University in Ada, BCM director Rob Gandy said he’s guessing there is more of an interest in God and spiritual things because there are more religious groups on campus than ever before.

“We’re having bigger crowds than we’ve ever had,” Gandy said. “We’ve been having 140-150 at our lunches, and we can only seat about 100. The amazing thing is they’ve continued to come, and stand against the wall.” He added that the evening meetings are also better attended with a “real good spirit.”

“One of the things students are enjoying is the praise time we have,” Gandy indicated. “We have real strong Bible study along with that. I’m old enough that I still believe in the hymns and Bible study as far as real growth is concerned.”

Gandy, who started his 26th year at ECU, said a key to growth is the enthusiasm of the leadership team. “And during the summer, our students did a lot of talking about BCM,” Gandy noted. “The only way you can get them to spread the word about BCM is if they are excited about it. They jumped in and did a good job of recruiting freshmen.”

Bentley Hill, BCM director at Carl Albert State College in Poteau, said he believes students are becoming more spiritually aware.

“We’re as church saturated as any place, and we get a large group of young people who are extremely churched, but it seems like the kids today really have a desire to be in the presence of God,” Hill said. “We’re also getting kids who have never been in church.”

Hill said he talked to a young man recently who didn’t know what the New Testament was. “But he was open; he wanted to hear what God had for him,” Hill said.

Hill added that he thinks students feel the praise and worship that is going on is their avenue before God.

“BCM provides the avenue for them to experience that,” Hill noted. On this campus, Hill said BCM interacts with nearly half the students, noting that one-third of the campus attended the BCM fall revival.

Hill said the Thursday night Bible study at Carl Albert averaged 35-40 students three years ago, and now is up to 60-70. The noonday lunch was running 45-50 three years ago, and today averages about 100, and 130 students were at one noonday.

“They were sitting in the lounge, prayer room and on the porch,” he said. “We had students everywhere.”

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  • Dana Williamson